Engagement key to active learning – 200 children speak out

Kindergarten-aged children enjoy learning much more than children who have started school according to a new Griffith University study published in the Australian Journal of Education.

Researchers from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research interviewed more than 200 Australian children aged between three and eight about how they liked to learn.

Lead author Associate Professor Beverley Flückiger (pictured, right) says children’s loss of motivation as they enter school is concerning as a positive outlook on learning is critical to success.

“More needs to be done to maintain the highly positive dispositions towards learning that children bring with them when they commence school,’’ she said.

The researchers found that younger children expressed a sense of agency and self-efficacy in their learning while many school-aged children described learning as a process that requires them to be compliant and passive.

They also found that most children craved work and learning processes that gained and kept their interest, with most seeking opportunities to engage in activities that were exciting, encouraging, creative, collaborative or fun. These include activities such as scientific experimentation, mathematical investigations, arts, projects reading, design and computer games, making things and playing games.

When opportunities for active engagement in learning were absent the school-aged children became bored. In contrast, Kindergarten children were universally enthusiastic about learning.

While the school-aged children often described desk-bound environments dominated by the requirement to listen to teachers or complete worksheets that failed to challenge or motivate, the younger children described active and imaginative experiences.

Associate Professor Flückiger said educators should find ways to listen to how children like to learn so they are engaged, motivated and have a say in their learning.

“Children’s voices are heard too seldom within education debates and their continued marginalisation is troubling. Our role as educators is to take greater notice of these perspectives and act upon them, ensuring their views inform policy and practice.

“The 200 children we engaged in conversation about learning were very keen to have their voices heard. They enthusiastically shared their ideas and, in particular, conveyed the view that learning needs to be interesting, challenging and motivating.”

The study was initiated and funded by the Metropolitan Region of the Queensland Department of Education who were mindful of the rights of young children to express their views about things that affect them. Associate Professor Flückiger undertook the research in collaboration with Dr Madonna Stinson and Professor Julie Dunn, also based at Griffith University.